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Voluntary Insanity

October 21, 2009

What on earth has become of civil discourse in America?!

In recent days, Fox pundit Glenn Beck has suggested that efforts to promote volunteerism somehow reflect a sinister and heretofore latent communist agenda promoted by the Obama Administration.  Ordinarily, such an idea would seem laughable on its face.  But that begs the question whether we live in ordinary times.

Today, a Boston Globe article reports that the U.S. Secret Service is under unprecedented strain due to competing commitments to combat financial crimes while protecting the president, vice president, their families, foreign heads of state, certain diplomats and key executive branch facilities in the Capitol.  Both of these missions have become growth businesses of late.

The parlous state of the worldwide financial system has created all the more incentive for counterfeiting and fraud.  Meanwhile, the election of the county’s first black president has spawned more threats against the life of the president than ever before.

The frequency with which overcooked rhetoric about hidden agendas, socialism, and similarly sinister innuendo is injected into the public debate (often, paradoxically, to have a chilling effect on conversation) suggests that something is seriously amiss.  While such rants are hard to take seriously on the one hand, they are equally hard, and quite possibly dangerous, to ignore on the other.

The willingness of Americans to voluntary organize for the common good has distinguished the country and its people from the republic’s earliest days.  The right of assembly is so dear it is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States right alongside the freedom to proclaim the wildest nonsense imaginable freely in public for anyone and everyone to hear.

I find the the idea that one right, free speech, is used in such a blatant way to discourage the free exercise of another, free assembly, for the purpose of discouraging collective action for the common good both deeply aberrant and seriously abhorrent.  Whose liberty suffers when I donate my time and talent to aid others, especially those in need?

Redbaiting has only one purpose: to end debate.  Free speech used to debate the scope and intent of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is quite different from using it to discourage assembly and volunteerism.  I find the fact that those who advocate the broadest possible application of the Second Amendment with respect to personal gun ownership are the same ones discouraging volunteerism frightening.

The right to say something does not make it a good idea to do so.  Spreading outright lies and falsehoods with the intent of chilling debate or worse yet fomenting unrest has no place in civil discourse.  The fact that even liberals like we wonder whether we need to take free speech to such extremes says something.

When, not if, such irresponsible rhetoric results in a violence, what will the right make of the matter then?  It’s clearly hoping too much for them to claim voluntary insanity as a defense for their actions.

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